Teen romantic comedies are one of my favorite pastimes. To me, nothing beats sitting in a packed theater wasting $15 on a horrible movie filled with clichés, bad acting and half-hearted scripts. Many people, however, do not share this passion with me, so it’s understandable if you steered clear of releases like “Every Day” or “Midnight Sun,” as you would have undoubtedly been exposed to all the aforementioned flaws that seem to come with nearly every teen movie.
But under this same precedent, don’t avoid Love, Simon.
Based on the book “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli, “Love, Simon” follows Simon Spier, a 17-year-old high school senior who is, as he puts it in the opening lines of the film, “just like you.” His life is exactly what you would expect from any teen-film protagonist: attractive parents, little sister, nice house in the suburbs, tight-knit friend group. But quickly, we learn what makes “Love, Simon” different than other teen wide-releases, and that is Simon’s “huge-ass secret;” he’s gay.
This alone sets “Love, Simon” apart from the rest. Although it may (or may not) come as a surprise, the film is the first to be produced by a major studio and marketed towards teenagers to feature a gay protagonist. While films like “Call Me By Your Name” and “Moonlight” were critically-acclaimed, these were both arthouse films that were initially given only limited releases.
From the start of the film, Simon’s lack of confidence in himself is clear, and Nick Robinson (“Jurassic World”) manages to convey this perfectly through the quirks of a closeted teen that only those who were once in that position can truly understand. From stumbling his way through an interaction with a yard worker, to nervously turning up the car radio when one of his friends laments on a dream about not seeing what’s right in front of him, Robinson managed to make the character scarily relatable.
After an anonymous message appears on his school’s gossip blog, Simon begins emailing the fellow closeted student who posted it (whom he refers to as “Blue”). Conflict arises, however, when Martin, another student at the school, accidentally reads Simon’s emails and uses them to blackmail him. The villain of Martin is one of my personal favorite parts of the movie, as he differs from the usual “villain” in these kinds of stories. He’s not popular, he doesn’t play sports, he’s not attractive; instead, he’s the weird, in your face theater kid at school.
As Simon deals with the fear of his emails being leaked, he continues to converse with Blue, and his rise in confidence becomes clear. A touching moment comes at the halfway point, when Simon comes out for the first time to one of his friends. This scene is the first where Simon says “I’m gay” out loud, and both Robinson and Alexandra Shipp (Abby) nail it with equal parts emotion and humor.
The acting highlights of the film no doubt come after the climax of the film, though, as Simon’s secret is revealed to not only the entire school, but his family as well. Jennifer Garner, who plays Simon’s mom, delivers an extremely emotional monologue that is hard to get through with dry eyes whether the message relates directly to you or not. Josh Duhamel, who takes on the role of Simon’s dad, follows up with an equally emotional scene in which he apologizes to Simon for years of unsuspecting jokes that he fears may have sent the wrong message.
Simon’s story has a happy ending; he’s accepted and supported by his family and friends, he gets the guy, and they all drive off together as the film comes to a close. Some, however, find this unsatisfying. They preach that this is not the case for every LGBTQIA+ teen, as for many, the coming out process is not nearly as simple and gratifying as the film portrays it to be.
While this is true, the argument falls flat for me. Throughout history, gay characters in cinema, television, and other media haven’t gotten the happy ending: they’re turned away by those they love, they’re forced to be someone they’re not, and in some cases, they’re even abused, whether it be mentally or physically.
“Love, Simon” takes the opposite approach. The story is one that brings hope to those still not comfortable with themselves and pride to those who are. Since the film’s release, numerous youth have been citing it as responsible for giving them the confidence to come out. It even inspired members of the cast and crew; Keiynan Lonsdale, who plays Bram in the film, and Nick Robinson’s own brother both came out while the film was in production.
So while it may be a bit cliché at points, and it’s certainly not going to win any awards (though one could argue that Robinson and Garner are deserving), “Love, Simon” is an extremely important film that is long overdue. Even if you can’t directly relate to it, or you’re so against teen rom-coms that you vowed to never see one again, I urge you to still go out and support “Love, Simon,” even if it’s just to send the message that a teen film featuring a gay lead character can be successful.